Leaders Must Smoke What They Are Selling

Growing up in the “projects” of my hometown 50 miles outside of Boston I was exposed to my fair share of drug lingo.

yay-8663094The stuff I was exposed to is all legal now in some places and probably wouldn’t be a big deal now but back then it was still on the hush, hush.  I would sometimes hear those who operated in this world say that those selling “Needed to smoke what they were selling.”

By smoking what they were selling the seller of the illicit drug would be proving that the drug was of the finest quality.  If they wouldn’t smoke what they were selling they would lack credibility for themselves and their product and this would be a problem.

And while I am sure that it never in a million years crossed John Maxwell’s mind when he wrote the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership I think he would agree that leaders need to symbolically “smoke what they are selling” as this affects their credibility.

This is especially true when it comes to leadership in the church.  While no one expects pastors to be perfect, there is an expectation they would practice what they preach.  I know the sermons I have preached in my life were every bit meant for me as for those in the congregation.  Likewise, I felt if I asked the congregation to do something, I should be willing to do it myself.  The danger in the church when we don’t “smoke what we are selling” is it not only affects our credibility as leaders but we run the risk of disparaging the message of the Gospel as the messenger.

There will be times when we fail to live up to this standard.  I know I have on quite a few occasions.  This said, it is always wise to examine ourselves to ensure we are “smoking what we are selling.”

Are there other ways church leaders can ensure they are “smoking what they are selling?”

The Primary Mission Field of a Leader

It used to be the “mission field” was somewhere far off in another country where we sent brave souls to work to spread the Gospel.  Today, those same place we in the U.S. sent people are sending people to the U.S. as missionaries because they recognize that the U.S. is a mission field.  In working with churches I often encourage them to think of their community as a mission field and approach ministry like a missionary would in a far away land.

yay-4700246However, the primary mission field for a pastor, and any lay person for that matter, is his or her family.   A wise preacher once said that when it came to priorities one always had to remember:

  • God comes first
  • Family comes next
  • Then the Church
  • And never, ever get one and three confused.

That is the danger for many a pastor: getting one and three above confused.  One simply cannot sacrifice their family on the altar of the church.  This is true whether your family is 2.5 kids and a dog, just you and your spouse or your family is your extended family.

I think this is what Paul was getting at when he wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:12 that deacons must “manage their children and household well.”  I don’t think Paul was saying that a Deacon should not have hell-cat children (that would disqualify half the clergy I know including me!).  I do think Paul was saying that the family mattered in ministry.

Before we invest in building relationships, being incarnational, conducting demographic research, and strategizing how we reach our community for Christ, perhaps we should find ways to build Christ honoring relationships with those closest to us, be present with them, ask them about what they are doing and facing, and be intentional about being like Christ toward them.  They are our primary mission field, not the community outside the doors.  There is a time to minister in that mission field but not to the neglect of the primary mission field.

If you are like me you have failed and fallen a thousand times in making your family the primary mission field.  Thanks goodness for their forgiveness and the mercy of God.  May God give us the strength to reach, love and nurture our primary mission field.

Leadership Training in the New Year

yay-6430374The new year offers churches a wonderful opportunity to begin the process of leadership training and equipping persons for ministry in their various ministry positions.

Notice I said start the process.  Leadership training and equipping servants for ministry should always be an ongoing process and it should be varied in approach.  When most persons think about leadership training they think of getting together their board or council on a Saturday morning for an information dump and maybe some discussion.  Perhaps there is some redeeming value in parts of that approach.

How much better though to have an ongoing and intentional system for leadership development and training.  Maybe this happens through reading a book together and having discussion about the principles found in the book and how it applies to your church.  Maybe in conjunction with this you and your leadership plan on attending a conference together to spur innovation and creativity.  Maybe you bring in someone from the outside to do a mystery guest audit or interview key leadership to give you an outside perspective that leadership can then wrestle with and apply to your church setting.  The possibilities are limitless and there is no one way to do leadership training.  The most important thing is to have a plan and be intentional in nurturing this system of the church.

It is important for leaders in the church to not only be equipped themselves but to equip those who serve in their ministry areas week in and week out.  Maybe this is done with ongoing quarterly get togethers supplemented by sharing resources via email.  Persons serving want and yearn to be equipped for that they have said they would do it is necessary for leaders to provide such equipping.

How will you equip leaders in your church in 2015? 

Christmas Eve Fishing Expedition

In most parts of the United States the last thing on the mind this Christmas Eve will be fishing.  Unless one is an ice fisherman then it is unlikely anyone will be fishing this Christmas Eve.

yay-2536105At least no one will be fishing for fish.  But churches would be smart to remember that Christmas Eve is a great time to fish for people.  In his book Leading Beyond the Walls, Pastor Adam Hamilton of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection describes what he calls the Christmas Eve fishing expedition.

We all know that Christmas Eve will bring persons from the community that do not regularly attend as well as persons who have fallen away from the church to the church.  This is a great time to invite the crowds that gather on Christmas Eve back in January.  The easiest way to do this is by offering an attractional “felt needs” series for January.  Marriage or relationship is a good topic for this series.

After the message on Christmas Eve the pastor might announce that there will be a new series starting in January and invite everyone present to come back in January for the series.  At the very least you will want to put a slide up with the message graphic and theme as well as the dates and titles of the messages.  If you go the extra mile then create a video introduction to the series to show on Christmas Eve.  Additionally, consider making a postcard sized invitation and put one or two in the Christmas Eve worship program.  When the series is announced point these out to persons inviting them to put it on the fridge at home to remind them or to think about who they might invite to come back with them.

This message series can then be used in follow up with guests from Christmas Eve.  Whether you do that through email or snail mail mentioning the upcoming series and giving an invitation will help make it easy for persons to return.

By doing the above, you will be doing your own fishing on Christmas Eve and you don’t even have to get your hands dirty!

A Fresh Set of Eyes Can Help Your Church

We just got done with my son’s seventh grade science fair project.  He studied and reported on “The Effect of Music on Plant Growth.”  He found that country music made plants grow best.

yay-4029188In the midst of “helping” him with his project I had to read his introductory page for the project.  As I read through it I corrected some spelling errors and some grammatical issues along the way.  Though he had read it over there were things he had missed.

The same thing would happen for me when I wrote a paper.  I would proofread it.  I might even proofread it twice.  Inevitably, I would miss something whether it was using “your” when I should have used “you’re” or forgot to add a comma or some other grammatical faux pas.  I am pretty sure this happens to everybody.  We get so caught up in our own writing that we miss the mistakes when we proofread.  This is why it is always best to have the fresh set of eyes of someone else to look at something we have written as they see it differently.  They can provide a fresh perspective and catch stuff we have been immune to seeing.

The same is true in our churches.  It is easy after one is in their particular local church setting for a while to get blinders.  The longer a pastor or a lay person is at a church the more susceptible they are to not seeing what needs to be seen.  When this happens then improvements don’t get made or changes do not occur.

This is why a having a consultant to come and spend time in your ministry setting can be a valuable exercise.  They come with a fresh set of eyes.  They don’t come with any history and should not come with any agenda.  They can be an influential outside voice to name some things that the church just has not seen because the people have been to close to it all.

This can be something as simple as having someone come to do a mystery guest audit at worship to hiring someone to come and evaluate all the systems in your local church.  One often overlooked way to get a fresh perspective is to ask the newest attendees and members of your church their opinion.  Did they feel welcomed?  Was there a clear path to get connected?  How did you hear about the church?  Why did you stay?

Don’t underestimate the value of a fresh set of eyes and the value they can bring to help the church make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Who is the E.F. Hutton of Your Church?

Quite a few years ago there was a television commercial for a stock brokerage called E.F. Hutton.  The memorable line from the commercial was “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”  The idea was that one could trust the wisdom and expertise of E.F. Hutton.  When E.F Hutton recommended something or spoke about any financial matter then people listened.  Check out the commercial below.

This leads to the question…who is the E.F. Hutton in your church?  Who  is the person that when he or she talks everyone listens?  Who is the person who has congregational capital to spend and holds great sway in the church with others?

Whoever this person is it is important to get them on your side if you seek to be a transformational leader in your church.  Spend time with them, cultivate a relationship with them, give them the “why behind the what” of changes that need to be made, and then encourage them to speak out.

What might this look like practically?  Let’s say you are seeking to relocate the church you are serving because they are landlocked and it is stunting growth and the ability of the church to reach more people.  Or, let’s say you are seeking to begin a second worship service to reach new people.  Or, let’s say your church is getting ready to hire a new youth pastor.  Then in the midst of a congregational information session or meeting or at the church council meeting encourage the “E.F. Hutton” of your church to stand up and proclaim their support and the reasons why they are supporting the change.  Because they have been there for many years, because they are well respected, and because if they are for moving forward whatever the issue, it must be OK.   Many persons will come around to this change.

So who are the E.F. Huttons in your church?  Who are the people to whom everyone else listens?  It is important to know who these persons are and get them on the side of doing whatever is necessary within the bounds of the Gospel to reach more people for Jesus.

Use Small Groups to Reach New People

Small groups in the church can be a great way to reach new people.  Encouraging members of a small group to invite their friends, relatives, co-workers and neighbors to participate in small group life is certainly one way to do that.  And, there is no denying that starting new small groups in the church helps to connect persons who have recently started attending worship as they are more likely to be a part of something new than something already established.

yay-14458636  Small groups can be used on a larger level to reach people in the community.  This can be done by offering small groups and short term classes that meet a felt need in the community.  Examples might include offering Financial Peace University, parenting support groups, Mothers of Preschoolers groups, Caring for Aged Parents support group and more.  The key is to find what the needs are of the community and seek to meet them through these groups and introduce people to Christ and the church.

Similarly, knowing the interests of your community can offer the opportunity to begin a small group or offer a class that is faith based and connects people to Jesus and the church.  Do you have a lot of wine drinkers- offer a wine in the Bible class.  Or, how about an exercise class that starts with a devotion and ends in prayer for the needs of the class.  Again, the possibilities are only limited by our imagination and ability to know the needs and interests of our community.

It is always a good idea to offer as many groups and classes as possible off site in a neutral territory as opposed to the church as this will help those who are hesitant to enter a church more likely to come.  Rent out the neighborhood clubhouse or community center to hold your group.  Have the group meet at the grocery store cafe or in someone’s home.

Make sure you present the Gospel in the group or class.  This doesn’t mean you have to have an “eyes shut every head bowed” type of call to Jesus after the first class but don’t shy away from connecting what your group is about to Jesus and the salvation and new life he brings.  Then give persons next steps which should include attendance at a weekly worship service among other things.

What other ideas do you have for using small groups to connect people to Jesus?

Resource Round Up

Definition of resourceHere are some church resources from around the web to help your church become a vital congregation for Jesus.

7 Bad Decisions in a Declining or Plateauing  Organization by Ron Edmondson.  From playing the blame game to not taking risks, Ron Edmondson shares the threat of stinkin’ thinkin’ in organizations that are declining or have plateaued.

How to Shape Your Church’s Culture by Andrew Hebert at the Lifeway Church Leaders Blog.  Peter Drucker said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” How does one build a Christ centered church culture to make disciples?  Andrew Hebert shares that God’s word, strong leadership, and the power of community all shape a church’s culture.

Moving Beyond a Mountain of Debt by Zip Long of Horizons Stewardship.  So many churches are struggling with debt for buildings that it is choking out any money for ministry.  What is a church to do?  Zip Long has some suggestions.  Check them out.

Engaging Your Mission Field by Bob Crossman.  Crossman, a New Church Strategist with Path One, with the General Board of Discipleship, of the United Methodist Church shares that churches need to listen and learn and turn missional gestures into missional encounters to engage their mission field.

Create New Entry Points– by F. Douglas Powe, Jr. and Jasmine Smothers in the Leading Ideas newsletter from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership.  Sunday worship is not the main entry point for many in the church today.  It is incumbent upon the church to help persons find ways to get connected to the church apart from Sunday morning.  The authors give multiple and practical ways for churches to offer entry points outside of Sunday worship.

12 Principles for Change in the Established Church– by Art Rainer.  The only one who likes change is a wet baby.  Change is a fickle mistress and navigating those tricky waters is a challenge for even the most seasoned of leaders.  Rainer gives some great advice for those seeking to lead change in the local church.

5 Features Every Great Church Website Needs– by Justin Lathrop via Pastors.Com.   No one under the age of 104 picks up the phone book and searches for your church in yellow pages so they can call and get info about your service times.  Instead, they look you up online.  The website has become the front porch of the church and the first impression a guest has of your church.

5 Secrets to Getting Volunteers to Perform– by Bill Tenny-Brittian of Effective Church.  The volunteer or “Servant” system of any church is vital if the church is going to be effective.  Bill Tenny-Brittian offers a number of pointers to ensure that your volunteer system is healthy.

Making the Most of the Committee on Lay Leadership

Most churches have finished their annual Charge Conference.  Hallelujah!  One of the fun things pastors and church leaders get to do every Charge Conference is fill in names next to leadership positions.  To facilitate this every church has a Committee on Lay Leadership (formerly called the Nominations Committee).

yay-1241428The Pastor of the church serves as the chair of this committee.  More often than not this committee in the church looks at the vacancies in church leadership and committees and then brainstorms persons they might think would do well in one position or another and then set out to beg, I mean ask persons to prayerfully discern, whether they would be called to this position.

All this is fine but what if the Committee on Lay Leadership did more?  What if, instead of just running around like crazy to get positions filled the committee, with the pastor leading the way, took seriously the call in Ephesians 5 to “equip the saints for ministry.”  In addition to filling slots for committee vacancies come Charge Conference what if the team met on a regular basis.

Here are a few things they might undertake:

  • Help the church as a whole develop a gifts based ministry.  This would include arranging for persons to discover their spiritual gifts through a one time or multiple week class.  Then the Committee on Lay Leadership might arrange for persons who have done a spiritual gifts discovery to meet with the pastor or other staff to find a fit for ministry.  Once a fit is found, arrangements could be made to connect the person with the leader for that ministry.  The pastor might also preach a series of messages on the spiritual gifts.
  • What if the Committee on Lay Leadership helped the church to provide ongoing training for the servants (volunteers) of the church.  This might be gently reminding other leaders of ministry areas (children, youth, greeters, ushers, etc.) to hold regular times of training or find other creative ways to train and equip those who serve.
  • What if the Committee on Lay Leadership arranged for one or two Servant Appreciation Nights where the church paid to have a meal catered for those who have been serving so faithfully just as a simple way of saying thanks.  Perhaps fun awards are given out at this dinner.  This Committee might also send handwritten notes to leaders in the church to thank them for service.
  • Ministry descriptions are wonderful things to have in place for the church so that persons know what they are being asked to do and there are clear expectations set out for servants.  The Committee on Lay Leadership might help to coordinate this effort asking ministry leaders to provide descriptions.

The Committee on Lay Leadership can help to ensure that the volunteer system of the church runs smoothly.  Why only meet once or twice a year to put names next to blanks.  What are some other ways the Committee on Lay Leadership might be even more effective?